Rural road safety

We look at keeping safe on rural roads...

In the UK, we are very lucky to have such a vast countryside, with gorgeous landscapes and rolling hills. And sometimes there’s nothing nicer than driving down a country road, enjoying the impressive views and the freedom of not being restricted by city driving.

However, rural roads can be dangerous. More deaths occur on rural roads than they do on urban roads, making road safety in rural areas imperative.

Whether you drive on rural roads on a regular basis or you are unfamiliar with driving in a rural area, we’ve provided you with some top tips to keep safe on rural roads as both a driver, and a walker.

Safety Tips For Driving On Rural Roads

Expect the unexpected

All bets are off when driving along rural roads. There are hidden dips, sharp bends, bends straight after crests, trees, and hedgerows. There is a risk of flooding, dirt and debris on the road, farm waste and fallen tree branches.

Expect obstacles, don’t think it’s going to be an easy drive because you haven’t seen a car for three miles. There are many things that can make your journey slightly more difficult or more dangerous, and you should be prepared for these when driving along a rural road.

When you are driving, look for clues. This includes keeping alert for potential obstacles before you come across them. Mud on the road could mean that a tractor is around the corner, or if there is steaming horse manure then a horse or a group of horses might be close by.

Read the signs and take the advice they are giving you. If there is a concealed entrance then slow down and expect a car coming in or out of it.

Expect close encounters

One of the nicest things about driving along rural roads is you are often treated to seeing wildlife. Rabbits or deer in the field next to the road, cows and sheep on a farm or even seeing pheasants or rare birds that you wouldn’t see in a city or a town.

However, they can also pose a risk. You should never stop or swerve to avoid a small animal. This includes rabbits, pheasants, or even ducks. We know it’s difficult, and your instinct is to slam on the brakes but this can endanger you, your passengers, those in the vehicle behind you and the person walking along the road you were almost going to swerve into.

It’s a different story when you encounter deer. If you see a deer then you should brake hard and sound your horn. This will hopefully startle them and stop them running into your path. Deer can do serious damage to your car, and if it’s rutting season their antlers can be lethal should they come through your windscreen. They can also write off your car.

Badgers can also do some serious damage to your car due to their size. However, badgers are nocturnal, so the chances are you won’t see one crossing the road and if you do, it should be quiet enough to let it pass. However, be aware that even though they are smaller than deer, they can still damage your vehicle.

deer on a road with a car in the background

If you are sharing the road with horses, then you should treat this as you would if you saw horses on any other road. Approach them slowly, don’t sound your horn or rev your engine as you could spook the horse and seriously injure the person riding it. They have every right to be on the road as you do, so don’t get annoyed if you find yourself in traffic because of them.

Be aware of rural rush hour

Farmers take their herds out of the fields at dawn and then take them back to their sheds at sunset. Therefore, your route could be blocked at these times. If you do come across rural rush hour, don’t get annoyed, enjoy the fact that you get to see it. And maybe turn your air conditioning on so you don’t end up smelling what the animals are dropping on the road.

Expect to share the road

Cars aren’t the only ones driving on rural roads, and you will have to expect to share the road with others. This can include tractors, animals and pedestrians.

Tractors and farm vehicles

This includes combine harvesters and other agricultural vehicles. Be patient, they can’t travel as fast as you can. Don’t do anything rash like try and overtake when you cannot see what is in front of them or what is coming on the opposite side of the road.

Many drivers of these vehicles will guide you to overtake them, take advantage of this and thank them when they help you out. If they don’t, then the chances are they aren’t travelling too far so you won’t be following them for 50 miles.

red tractor driving along a country road in the sunshine

Animals

We’ve already mentioned the likes of deer and small wildlife, and we’ve also looked at herding times. However, you may encounter animals at different times for different reasons. Some may have escaped which means that their behaviour could be unpredictable.

They could be being herded, in which case you will have to wait for them to cross. You might see signs for cow grates and signs that will tell you if animals are crossing. You just have to be patient and appreciate the fact you wouldn’t see it in London.

Cyclists and pedestrians

Rural roads are hugely popular with cyclists and ramblers, so you will have to be aware of them at all times. Expect to see someone on foot or on their bicycle as you approach a brow of a hill or a bend, keep your speed low in case they are just around the corner.

Again, they have every right to be on the road, especially cyclists, so be patient and don’t do anything rash that could endanger lives.

Tourists

This includes people towing caravans or who are in motorhomes. They won’t be able to travel as fast as you, so you will have to be prepared to follow one of these along a rural road, especially in the summer.

Motorcyclists

Motorcyclists love rural roads, and there is a chance you could encounter a motorcyclist or several. Don’t deliberately try to obstruct them if you know they want to come past. Don’t be alarmed if they are in the middle of the road one minute and by the kerb the next, they are taught to position themselves so they get the best view.

If you see a motorcyclist approach you, then prepare to see more as they often ride together.

How to overtake on a rural road

Overtaking on a rural road can either be easy or it can be near on impossible, it depends on what road you are driving on.

If you have a lovely straight road and you can see for miles ahead of you, then this is perfect. Hold back before you overtake so you get a good view of the road, and know exactly when the manoeuvre will end. However, be aware of those behind you. There could be some who don’t want to wait, and will overtake several cars if they can, so don’t just look in front but also beware of who’s behind you.

If you are on a windy country lane and you encounter a slow moving vehicle, such as a tractor or a caravan or perhaps a group of cyclists or horse riders, then it can be more difficult. Wait until you get to a straight, and then overtake. Often cyclists, tractor drivers and horse riders will help you overtake when possible, using hand signals to let you know it’s safe for you to overtake. But this might not always be the case so you should approach with caution.

no overtaking sign on a country road with a bend

Check the speed limit

On rural roads it is often the national speed limit, which is 70mph. However, don’t feel like you have to go at that speed, especially if you do not know the area. While going too slowly can be dangerous on the motorway, it’s not the case in the country-side. You should go as fast as you feel is appropriate in the area that you are driving in. Though the speed limit might be 70mph, it’s a guide and not a target. Especially when you are facing sharp bends or if you are travelling in bad weather.

Safety Tips For Walking On Rural Roads

If you are walking in a rural area, then there might not be any pavements or footpaths for you to walk along. Therefore, it is important that you know how to walk along the road safely.

Walk facing oncoming traffic

If there is a small group of you, then you should walk facing oncoming traffic. If there is a sharp bend, then cross over the road well before the bend, and cross back after the bend. You should also be prepared to walk single file.

If there is a larger group of you, then you should walk with the traffic. There should be one person at the front and at the back as a look-out. They should have reflective jackets on and they should also have lights, a white one at the front and a red one at the back. Those walking on the outside of the group should also wear reflective clothing.

a group of ramblers walking along a country road in the sunshine

Watch out for bridges and narrow shoulders

These can make things a bit too close for comfort so watch out if things get considerably narrower. Cars will slow down for you, but it can still make it a tight squeeze.

Be careful when crossing the road

Crossing the road in rural areas can be tricky, especially if there are several bends or people often go the national speed limit. Look twice both ways before crossing and don’t assume drivers will stop for you. If one driver lets you go on one side, make sure it is safe to cross the other side too. Other drivers might not stop for you and being stuck in the middle of a rural road is hugely dangerous.

A group of ramblers joining a country road

Let people know where you are going

Tell someone where you are going and what route you are taking. Bring your phone and an ID, especially if you are walking alone. You might not always get signal in rural areas but you will always be able to get hold of the emergency services.  

Cycling On Rural Roads

Cyclists love rural roads, and you can understand why. Great views, challenging hills and fresh air makes cycling on rural roads a popular weekend pastime.

However, it can also be dangerous. So here are some quick tips to keeping safe cycling on a rural road.

Want to discover top safety practices when sharing the road with Cyclists? Head over to reveal all you need to know here today

Don’t expect motorists to see you

When cycling in the city, dense streets, attentive drivers and good street lighting means that the key to keeping safe is to use the traffic to your advantage.

However, this is not always the case in the countryside and often the key is to keep on the side of the road. Sharp bends and high-speed limits mean that cars may not always see you, and you have to prepare for that. You should also plan to dodge vehicles even when it is your right of way.

Keep an eye on what’s going on behind you

Glance over your shoulder every time you reach a road hazard, a turning or even a driveway. Cars can often pass cyclists, slow down to turn right and cross right into the cyclists path, even though they’ve just seen them. So always be aware of what is happening behind you.

family in brightly coloured clothing cycling along a country road on a sunny day

Watch for oncoming traffic

Narrow country lanes often mean vehicles veer into the opposite lane when turning a corner, making it dangerous for cyclists. This can also be the case if they are overtaking or simply accelerating.

Keep an eye out for oncoming traffic, they may be going faster than you think and they certainly might not be expecting to see you.

Wear appropriate clothing

Make sure you have reflective gear on if you are cycling in the dark and wear something bright if it’s during the day. Make sure your bicycle has working lights and consider extra lights such as an arm-strap or a shoe clip.

We also recommend wearing a helmet. It’s safer and can save you from serious injury.

Stop in sensible places

Don’t stop in dark patches of the road or where people cannot see you. Wait until you can pull to the side away from the road or you are in a better lit or higher visibility area before you change, grab some food or answer a text.

Hopefully this has cleared a few things up in regards to keeping safe on rural roads. The key is to be prepared, and to be aware of your surroundings at all times. Expect the unexpected, and expect to share the road with a fair few other people and animals. When walking and cycling on rural roads, the key is visibility. Make sure that people can see you, and be aware of oncoming traffic.

Driving in the dark
Rachel Richardson

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